I love to be read to.
If you stacked up all the hours my husband has read me essays from the New York of Review of Books while I cooked, I expect they would stretch into a solid month or more, a good long vacation in my brain. When a text enters awareness via human speech, we receive it more deeply, I believe, than through decoding letters on a page. Closing my eyes, I imagine a ribbon of words threading its way through my cells, suffusing my body, brain to toes. It’s like someone whispering in my ear, more like consuming the text than observing it: comforting, satisfying, intimate.
If I were very rich and self-indulgent, I’d hire someone with a plummy voice to be on call as my personal reader every hour of the day. Back in the real world, though, I have my beloved refurbished iPod, plump and juicy gigs at my beck and call 24/7.
And now I have free stories. LibriVox is a wonderful Internet site where you can download audio versions of books in the public domain. Last week, I listened to an early Agatha Christie novel as I shopped for groceries, chopped vegetables, sewed a hem or took my walk. This week, I started Sadhana: The Realisation of Life, by Rabindranath Tagore, a deeply spiritual Bengali writer who in 1913 won the first Nobel Prize for literature awarded to an Asian. Sadhana was published in 1916; it compiles a series of talks given at Harvard, summing up Tagore’s understanding of life as shaped by Buddhist and Hindu teachings.
Here’s the thing that got me excited one morning as I waited in line at the Post Office:
Facts are many, but the truth is one. The animal intelligence knows facts, the human mind has power to apprehend truth. The apple falls from the tree, the rain descends upon the earth–you can go on burdening your memory with such facts and never come to an end. But once you get hold of the law of gravitation you can dispense with the necessity of collecting facts ad infinitum. You have got at one truth which governs numberless facts. This discovery of truth is pure joy to man–it is a liberation of his mind. For, a mere fact is like a blind lane, it leads only to itself–it has no beyond. But a truth opens up a whole horizon, it leads us to the infinite.
How was I able to quote the exact text of this excerpt? Simple, I downloaded the book from Project Gutenberg, which offers some audio books, but many more free public-domain ebooks of texts in various languages (the great bulk, over 16,000, in English). Both LibriVox and Project Gutenberg feature links to other sites that make books available (which feature links to yet more sites and so on, so on, so on).
When I let myself truly apprehend the extent to which the well of human knowledge has become accessible through the Internet (which includes apprehending what is key to these projects, countless volunteers who type or read the texts as free-will offerings to their fellow humans), I practically swoon. Is this not beautiful? Is this not an outpouring of the love of learning that animates the human project? Is this not reason to hope?